An Attack of ‘Civility’

Bonus Content!

I need not tell you how I feel about ‘Civility’. Your poor widdle fee-fees are hurt? I’m not your Mother. Consider yourself lucky Robspierre is out of date and Jughashvili unfashionable so our more benevolent, Amish, nature leads us to mild expressions of disapproval like shunning your company in restaurants instead of more vigorous measures like covering you in hot tar and feathers and riding you out of town on a rail.

‘Lock him up’ chant highlights the debate we need about Trump’s lawlessness
By Greg Sargent, Washington Post
October 28, 2019

“We are Americans, and we do not do that,” said Joe Scarborough on MSNBC of the chants. “We do not want the world hearing us chant, ‘Lock him up’ to this president, or to any president.”

Scarborough noted that Trump has made this sort of authoritarian appeal the “centerpiece” of his campaign, before adding that it’s unacceptable for either side to threaten to “imprison your political opponents.”

Some Democrats rushed to agree. As Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) put it, “the office of the president deserves respect, even when the actions of our president at times don’t.” Coons despaired of the message this sends to the world about our weakened “institutions.”

Some of this is true, as far as it goes. Neither side should threaten to imprison its political opponents. If the chant meant a future Democratic president should conduct himself as Trump has — that is, calling on his administration’s law enforcement machinery to be turned loose on political opponents — that’s wrong. Just as it was wrong when Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said that if she were elected president, her administration’s Justice Department “should” prosecute Trump.

As for whether this sends a message to the world that the United States is teetering on the brink of civic breakdown, as Scarborough and Coons suggest, that may well be an unfortunate outcome, for us and internationally.

But all these responses amount to a very cramped reading of the issues genuinely raised here. It will do terrible violence to the reality of this moment if “lock him up!” is treated as a tit-for-tat response to “lock her up!”

The implication is that both chants reside in equivalently hypothetical realms. That’s nonsense.

Here, in the real world, right now, at this very moment, Trump’s Justice Department actually is carrying out a criminal investigation ordered up by Trump for nakedly political reasons. It’s important to see Barr’s review of the origins of the FBI investigation as not merely a good-government internal accounting — which might be justified to some degree, if it were actually that.

But it isn’t actually that. We know this because Barr told us so. When Barr claimed there’d been “spying,” he lent credibility not just to the idea of irregularities at the outset of the Russia probe (which became the special counsel investigation documenting Trump’s extensive corruption and likely criminality), but also to the notion of a deliberate and nefarious law enforcement plot to derail Trump’s candidacy.

Trump has made that baseless assertion, and called for an investigation of it, for years, and you have to be spectacularly gullible to believe Barr’s review has nothing whatsoever to do with this. It’s meant to rewrite the entire story of 2016, by downgrading the seriousness of Russia’s sabotaging of our democracy on Trump’s behalf.

This, by extension, will absolve Trump and his advisers of their massive betrayal of our country in encouraging and seeking to profit from that sabotage, and absolve Trump of his extensive and likely criminal efforts to cover all that up.

On “This Week,” after House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) asserted Barr hopes to “serve the president’s political interests,” ABC News’s Martha Raddatz claimed Schiff has “no evidence of that yet whatsoever.”

No evidence? What about what’s already on the public record? This suggests news organizations may well grant Barr’s review the benefit of the doubt, despite the extensive, already-established grounds for doing the contrary.

The “lock him up” chant also landed in a real world in which Trump actually has committed extensive corruption and likely campaign finance and obstruction of justice crimes, and in which he actually is not facing accountability for them. That’s partly because Justice Department regulations actually did prevent the prosecution of Trump for offenses that many prosecutors believe actually do merit prosecution.

Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers actually do make a series of arguments that place Trump above the law. They claimed he could shut down an investigation into himself for any reason whatsoever. The White House flatly argues there was nothing wrong with Trump pressuring a foreign leader to interfere in our election on his behalf — it’s fine for Trump to try to dodge accountability in a free and fair election.

The White House actually does argue that the constitutionally sanctioned impeachment process over these high crimes and misdemeanors is entirely illegitimate. The Justice Department actually did affirmatively act to bury the truth about them, advising against the transmission of the whistleblower complaint to Congress, and declining to investigate its charges.

It’s wrong to call for the imprisonment of political opponents. But what we actually should debate is the propriety of using that particular language to demand accountability for such extreme lawlessness, when all such accountability mechanisms are faltering, and when the White House’s posture is that Trump is free to abuse his powers however he sees fit and that no accountability of any kind is legitimate.